Basic Electronics

Getting started with basic electronics is easier than you might think. This Instructable will hopefully demystify the basics of electronics so that anyone with an interest in building circuits can hit the ground running. This is a quick overview into practical electronics and it is not my goal to delve deeply into the science of electrical engineering. If you are interested in learning more about the science of basic electronics, Wikipedia is a good place to start your search.

By the end of this Instructable, anyone with an interest to learn basic electronics should be able to read a schematic and build a circuit using standard electronic components.
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Step 1: Electricity

There are two types of electrical  signals , those being alternating current (AC), and direct current (DC).

With alternating current, the direction electricity flows throughout the circuit is constantly reversing. You may even say that it is alternating direction. The rate of reversal is measured in Hertz, which is the number of reversals per second. So, when they say that the US power supply is 60 Hz, what they mean is that it is reversing 120 times per second (twice per cycle).

With Direct Current, electricity flows in one direction between power and ground. In this arrangement there is always a positive source of voltage and ground (0V) source of voltage. You can test this by reading a battery with a multimeter. For great instructions on how to do this, check out Ladyada's multimeter page (you will want to measure voltage in particular).

Speaking of voltage, electricity is typically defined as having a voltage and a current rating. Voltage is obviously rated in Volts and current is rated in Amps. For instance, a brand new 9V battery would have a voltage of 9V and a current of around 500mA (500 milliamps).

Electricity can also be defined in terms of resistance and watts. We will talk a little bit about resistance in the next step, but I am not going to be going over Watts in depth. As you delve deeper into electronics you will encounter components with Watt ratings. It is important to never exceed the Wattage rating of a component, but fortunately that Wattage of your DC power supply can easily be calculated by multiplying the voltage and current of your power source.

If you want a better understanding of these different measurements, what they mean, and how they relate, check out this informative video on Ohm's Law.

Most basic electronic circuits use DC electricity. As such, all further discussion of electricity will revolve around DC electricity.
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hottroc2 years ago
"by looking up their datasheets"... you make it sound so simple. Lots of times I have tried to find datasheets on various components with no success. Either I can't find them at all or someone wants to charge me a fee (subscription/membership or one off extortionate charge or something) to download it. OR else there is no marking on the component to identify it, or lots of markings that can't be traced or whatever.

To be constructive....maybe you could add some links to some suitable places to lookup datasheets if the manufacturer is no help or not available? Thanks.
randofo (author)  hottroc2 years ago
I do link to octopart.com. I suppose I can link there more.

I can't help that some components don't have easily attainable datasheets. Resolving that issue goes far beyond the scope of this Instructable.

For most common components, you can find datasheets freely available in numerous locations.
2 days ago

You can also find a number of datasheets at componentsearch.com if they can't be found on octopart.

2 years ago
While it might go beyond basic electronics a ohm meter can be used to identify if a transistor in a NPN or PNP, and identify the leads. In the event one needs more data than that they should buy new transistors of known origin.

First make sure that in the ohms function that the leads for your multimeter have the negative on the negative lead, and the positive on the positive, there are meter that do not. In simple terms a transistor contains two diodes. Use the multimeter to map how the current flows through the transistor. In the event you have a multimeter that can test transistors you can use your new found knowledge about that transistor to test it's gain. Me I got lucky some years ago and bought a used BK precision transistor tester as a bargain. Hook up three leads and it tells me all I need to know.
2 years ago
Hi, yes I hadn't read the whole instructable when I posted the comment and saw your link in a later step, many thanks.

Great tutorial. Thanks for your work.

can you suggest some cheap electronic kit?

FrankenPaper2 months ago

There is a neat Kick Starter project that goes well with this instructable. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/799570197/soc...

FrankenPaper2 months ago

This is really great! Most of what I learned in my Junior year in high school electronics is in this tutorial. Thank you!

FrankenPaper2 months ago

In Step 10 the link to the Schematic of the 555 timer IC chip is terrific! I am making it my screen saver!

FrankenPaper2 months ago

For Step 7 the link for reading capacitors is 404. I believe that this is the current version. http://www.play-hookey.com/dc_theory/capacitors/ca...

FrankenPaper2 months ago

Rob Ives made a really nice (free) printable Resistor Color wheel. http://www.robives.com/blog/resistor_colour_wheel

FrankenPaper2 months ago

Very nice tutorial for Basic Electronics! Thank you very much!

In Step 1, the links for Reading a Multimeter have moved to https://learn.adafruit.com/multimeters/

and for voltage https://learn.adafruit.com/multimeters/voltage

freeza362 years ago
Let me add this realy quick (i think its right) the first picture is in series, the seconed in parallel
3 months ago

Freeza (guy with pictures) is correct.

2 years ago
nope u got it mixed around flip it and your good
first is parallel second is series
in parallel the power that goes through all of the lights only comes from one end instead of multiple power wires from the power source
8 months ago

no bboyman, first is series and second is parallel.

4 months ago

if 1+2+3 is running in series then it follows 1 3

2 4 ======= paralel

2 years ago
You have it drawn correctly. When I teach circuits, i use the following definitions which seem to bring together what other users have said. I find that these definitions are understandable by most children.

Simple circuit: A circle/path through which electricity passes to connect a power source to ONE component.

Series circuit: One large circle/path through which electricity passes to MORE THAN ONE component. The current flows on one circle path through all of the components. Thus, if one of the components (e.g., bulbs) is removed from the socket, the electricity stops flowing, and all of the bulbs in the series circuit stop lighting up.

Parallel circuit: 2 or more connecting circles/paths where each component is directly connected in its own circuit/circle to a power source. If one bulb is removed from the socket, the electricity still flows to the other bulbs.

2 years ago
Yup, it is correct...in parallel, the current has multiple pathways to travel through...whereas in series, there is only one pathway for the current...First one is series, second one is parallel...

@bboyman
in parallel, it comes from multiple wires, whereas in series, it goes through one wire...

When things are wired in series, things are wired one after another, such that electricity has to pass through one thing, then the next thing, then the next, and so on.

When things are wired in parallel, they are wired side by side, such that electricity passes through all of them at the same time, from one common point to another common point

TwelveFoot3 months ago

Okay, so output of a AA battery is approximately 1.5V, 10MA.

Two wired in series would be 3V, 10MA.

Two wired parallel would be 1.5V, 20MA.

Would it be possible to use four batteries; two sets of two batteries, each in series; then the two sets wired parallel. For a total of 3V, 20MA?

dr_bigben4 months ago
You did a great job making a basic intro to electronics. I wish I would have found this about 6 months when I first got into electronics
SACKTRON4 months ago

Hi , You are right but with frequency I know one cycle is made up two half cycle which is positive and Negative cycles ,So 60 Hz is 60 times occurrence of full cycle per second, if I am wrong you can alert me .

raviolikid2 years ago
Wow!

You have given me a basis for understanding electronics - and that is a subject I could never get a handle on.

I wish I could show this to my students in my "Art and Engineering Clubs" - a lot of them want to add electricity to their projects. I tell them that they will have to read up on it and figure it out.

4 months ago

Hi. I know this is long past the date you posted this comment. By now, you may have come across lots of good information on electronics. In case you are still looking, there are some great sources of information. Here are a few:

Instructables - great for many different electronics topics, one of which is the Luna Mod Looper, Basic Stamp 2 Version, my Instructable,

Parallax - has fantastic documentation on their microcontrollers and how to use them, you might want to start with something like "What's a Microcontroller?" or even the more advanced "Stampworks" kit,

Arduino - most likely the most popular microcontroller out there with lots of material for beginners but make sure to find something that is targeted for beginners,

Processing - for making projects that really do well at linking Arduino and the computer or just making computer type art, check out the Exhibition link on the Processing.org site,

PICAxe - quite powerful microcontroller that uses its own version of BASIC,

Raspberry Pi - a very popular single board computer that has many projects available from those for kids to embedded software engineers.

You also might want to check out websites that are kind of hobby suppliers or smaller kits suppliers such as Sparkfun and Adafruit Industries as they have many tutorials.

Once you start looking and working on things you will find much more information.

Also - check out WISC-ONLINE for many electronics tutorials.

sangitariq4 months ago
thaks dear
phluxxy4 months ago

In the section where you mention "If you were to combine two SPDT switches into one single switch, it would be called a double-pole double-throw switch (DPDT). This would break two separate circuits and open two other circuits, every time the switch was activated," Do you not mean that it would break two separate circuits and close two others?

mcsk8rg4 months ago

this was amazing very nice
although if you explained the working of those circuits it would have been PERFECT
in the literal sense !

because i felt the need for the circuit working explanation
cheers :)

jgibson245 months ago
Please explain what 'ground' is in detail! I'm very confused
4 months ago

Ground is 0V. It gets it name from ground itself. Think of lightning as +, or voltage. It tends to move from high concentration (+), to low concentration (-, or 0V). In a small circuit, this is much more controlled, as electrons move from voltage to "ground" or - making the circuit function.

muntaseralferagi4 months ago

Very helpful,Thank you for sharing!

jasongervasio19915 months ago
Can someone please clarify whether resistors are polarized or not? I apologize if that is a silly question, but I am a novice and I know only what I've read here in this article.
5 months ago

No, they are not polarized.

5 months ago
Thank you. Might you also be able to tell me if electricity passing through the resistor in the opposing direction changes the amount of resistance?
4 months ago

Resistance are bidirectional that means resistance remains same on both directions.

4 months ago

Thanks!

smohare5 months ago

superb tutorial ....its very easy to learn on instructables,com

ualbuquerque5 months ago

very god!

mk4845 months ago

Thanks for this - I've just posted my first Instructable on the Nic Nac Tic Tac crystal radio and your explanations of some of the components are better than mine - I'll be referring people here for a quick start up course, instead of trying to reinvent the electronic wheel - mk484

iruwl5 months ago
thank...
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